Now, I'd lie if I said this is something I know much about. I know fantasy and wizards and magic was everywhere back in my sons' day, as publishers and companies sought to jump on the Pottermania bandwagon. But today things are eclectic enough to see almost any genre at any given time rise up in popularity, then fade away just as fast. It's like wack-a-mole with pop culture.
|An example the new online RPG players|
Speaking of which, I often wonder why anyone who played D&D (or similar games) back then would ever trust the press or the mainstream media culture or upper elite narratives today. Apparently within the whole modern RPG world, there's this strange myth about how the evil religious fundamentalists sideswiped the game back in the 80s and ended up pushing it into the sewers of underground culture.
That seems to be a narrative that many - especially more liberal and secular - players of the game seem content with. But that's not how I remember it. They insist that religious fundamentalists ran around screaming 'It's of the Devil!" and eventually took a toll on the game's popularity. But here's the thing. Those religious fundamentalists did the same thing about rock music and heavy metal, about drugs and smoking and drinking, and about sex outside of marriage.
Guess what? Most kids I knew happily ignored those religious fundamentalists. In fact, in some cases - like rock music or heavy metal - the targets of religious zeal actually became quite popular, perhaps even because of the furor and outrage. So it always struck me as odd to think that suddenly those same religious fundamentalists exercised such influence when it came to a game about hunting down dragons and wizards.
|June 1982: When Elliott's jock brother plays D&D (from E.T.)|
What's important is that the guys doing it were a hodgepodge. A couple might have been geeks and outcasts, but one was a quarterback, one other a soon to be varsity letter man. In fact, as I discovered how many guys were playing it (and yes, it was mostly guys), it included the unpopular, the popular, the football team captain, the varsity basketball player, class president, valedictorian, druggy, computer nerd, you name it. There was no rhyme or reason. The game seemed to have as much stigma about it as the other big fad game at that time called Trivial Pursuit. That is, no stigma at all.
Yet, by 1985, the year I graduated, I'd say the bulk of those guys wouldn't get caught dead playing that game. Even if they were already upperclassmen in 1981, they were nowhere near it by my own senior year. So what happened? Those religious fundamentalists get the better of them?
No. What happened was that American upper class media society came down on the game like a ton of bricks. The press, doctors and medical experts, child behavior specialists and mental health professionals, politicians, and even pop culture began taking shots at it. Soon, the narrative had been assembled and was being presented rather consistently: this game was for losers. Not just geeks and nerds, but freaks, outcasts, morons, nobodies who couldn't get a date if they had a cage and a trap, as well as the psychotically inclined.
|Starring a young Tom Hanks|
The peer consensus was that, whatever this game, it was definitely for those loser types over there. By the following school year (my junior year), I'd say half of the kids I knew who had played it had put in on the shelves and wouldn't get near it again. Some even denied having ever played it. While it was interesting seeing the alliance between the 700 Club and Tipper Gore, I always thought that the real torpedo in the side of its popularity came from this coordinated assault from every angle of our social and media outlets. The same coordination we see more and more about a host of social and moral issues today.
There were no doubt other reasons for its demise. Fads do wane after all. Poor business decisions were apparently a part of the problem. Also, some have argued that while kids usually ran out of the house when the parents were home to take drugs, smoke, drink or have sex, they stayed home and played D&D. Thus the game was there in the presence of the parents. I remember a Cross Country coach once saying he didn't let his kids play D&D, since he heard them playing it once and using language he had never heard his sons use before. We had news for him, they used that language all the time, just not when he was around.
Nonetheless, perhaps it was an easy battle for the parents, who probably weren't playing their own D&D games, but might have been a bit fast and loose where drinking or pot or even the odd Playboy magazine (or at least Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue) was concerned. A convenient symbolic scapegoat. Society says it's dangerous, look at me: I'm being a good parent.
And since the press/educators/Hollywood/experts had all agreed that only the worst moron, loser, freak and mental outsider would ever play the game to begin with, it was a hill that most teens just weren't willing to die on. Sure, let mom and dad have their victory here, we'll be at the KISS concert, smoking up in the parking lot and hoping to get lucky with the girls afterwards.
That's just a thought that came to mind as I pondered the press's sudden interest in yet another resurgence of this game that will never go away. If I were a D&D player, the last thing I would do is assume that if the majority consensus of our elite betters is that something is true then it must be so. After all, it wasn't just those religious types who did in the game they love back in the day and made its loathsomeness something of a dog bites man narrative. It was the very press and other social betters who banded together to make it happen.